I was born to a sixteen-year-old girl—she’d turn seventeen in the hospital two days after giving birth. She was smart, pretty, from a decent family that loved their kids, and completely unprepared to be a teen mother. She’d known from the start that she couldn’t keep me.
She had managed to hide her pregnancy from her parents for four or five months. On a family road trip from their home in Seattle to Montana she got sick, and her mom grew suspicious. By the time they got back she knew the jig was up—she came clean.
They handled it okay at first, but after about a month, with rumors swirling around the neighborhood, she was sent off—just like so many others before her. The seventies were a different time.
For the next few months she lived with another pregnant girl and attended “Pregnant Girl School” which was nothing more than a building off of the main high school. Lunch required the pregnant girls to parade through the cafeteria where the other students could call them names and throw food at them.
When the big day came, she sat on the hospital bed and continued to be treated in the same cruel manner, only this time it was the nurses doing the name calling. Had she been the same age, but married, she would have been treated like an angel.
The cruelty took its toll. She told the nurses that the papers were wrong. Of course she wasn’t giving up her baby, it was going to come home with her. And three days later that’s what happened.
For the next few days she held me in her arms, knowing full well that she couldn’t keep me. Eventually she picked up the phone and the social worker came and got me. I can’t imagine the pain she must have felt that day, or how difficult that decision could have been to make, but I can say that it was for the best. There’s no way to know for sure how things would have turned out, but it is hard to imagine my life having gone any better than it has.
A month later my mom got a phone call that she didn’t expect to get for at least another six months—they had a baby boy for her.
February 8th will alway be a special day for the two of us. Adoption Day. From that day forward I was her son. I would always know I was adopted. I have no memory of being told that I was, I’ve just always known. My mom deserves a lot of credit for that I think. And I also think that because I always knew and understood, that being adopted never became a part of my identity. In fact, at times years could pass without my ever thinking of it. That sounds kind of unbelievable, but it’s true.
My mom’s first marriage didn’t work out. She remarried when I was two, and my dad adopted me days later. I was their son. End of sentence. End of story. Nobody was ashamed to admit that I was their adopted son, but nobody dwelled on it either. When people would see us together, me towering over both of my dark-haired parents with my blonde hair and blue eyes, they would occasionally ask, and we’d happily explain.
And so it would go for years and years. One happy family.
It really wasn’t until I had kids of my own that the true extent of what my birth-mother had done for me began to set in. Every couple of months I’d think, “I need to find a way to tell her that I’m good. That I’ve had an amazing life. That I thank her for what she did for me.”
But life would get in the way. And before I knew it another three months had gone by and I’d still done nothing. Then a year. Then five.
Back in December I explained to the kids for the first time that I am adopted, and what exactly that means. I don’t remember now what we were talking about that brought on the conversation, but I knew that they were getting to the age (five and three) that they could understand. And they did, more or less.
The very next day Ali was checking e-mail when she said to me, “Your birth mom is looking for you.”
It wasn’t entirely unexpected, but I did think the timing was rather uncanny.
It’s funny, I am a pretty public person, but the mediator had a heck of a time tracking me down. She finally found some reference to my in-laws, and made the connection.
For the next two months I sat on that e-mail. We were driving around Baja, and then bumming on the beaches of mainland Mexico. I can procrastinate with the best of them. During that time I was leaning on a decision which had two possible answers for me. One, I write a letter and just let her know all is well, but remain anonymous. Two, I get in touch.
I stewed on that for a while actually.
My mom actually yelped when I told her. She was so excited. My mom has always thought about my birth mother. She’s always felt a tremendous gratitude toward her, and the thought that she might be able to tell her that herself after all of these years was very exciting.
Eventually I got in touch.
For the past few months we’ve been exchanging e-mails. No, no phone calls. Everyone knows I hate the phone.
My birth mom lives in Seattle again, after a lot of middle years in Indiana. We were stranded in the midwest at the same time, and now we were both back in the Pacific NW at the same time.
This weekend we met. We hadn’t seen each other since 1974. I had no memory of it, while her memory of it hadn’t faded a bit.
The meeting went great. She’s a terrific woman. Seeing her you could sense that a weight had been lifted, and really, that’s all I’ve wanted for her for years now. Just to know. So she wouldn’t have any regrets or guilt. So she could be happy.
It’s weird in a way. I’ve had such a good life, and such amazing parents, that I was always able to feel that I loved my birth mom, while at the same time I was okay and not out there searching for answers. That feels a little cruel when I say it—it’s not meant to—but we’ve talked about it and she understands. She carried me for nine months, gave birth, and looked in my eyes, while I didn’t get to have those memories. It took her a while, but she realized as well that that was really the best possible outcome of the adoption. I was, and am, a happy and content child.
And that’s that. Reunited. It feels good. We’re all struggling a bit to understand how we fit into one another’s lives, but we’ll figure it out. We had forty-one years without each other, hopefully we’ve got forty-one more left in us together.